Saint Mark's Church on Saint Mark's Square in Zagreb's upper town (Photo: Patrik Macek/PIXSELL) Saint Mark's Church on Saint Mark's Square in Zagreb's upper town (Photo: Patrik Macek/PIXSELL)

In search of their Croatian roots these thirty-three Summer School students visited Zagreb, Ilok, Vukovar, Osijek, Krašić, Pula, Rovinj, Smiljan, Šibenik and Knin, and upon their arrival in Split, visited the Mestrovic Gallery. In conversation with Croatiana Orešković, a special advisor for the issue of Croatian Emigration at the Central State Office for Croatians living outside of the Republic of Croatia, we learned about their impressions and experiences traveling through Croatia.

"All of the students are second, third or fourth generation Croats, ranging from 18 to 30 years of age, some are university students, while some have already graduated. We believe this is a great experience for them, an opportunity to meet young people from Croatia. Everywhere they had an opportunity to socialize with their peers, see how we live here, and I can only say that they are extremely impressed. We have been in Split for two days now, they have seen most of the major sights, and now we are at the Meštrović Gallery where they have the opportunity to get to know more about our famous sculptor in more detail. Meštrović himself is a great link between the Croatian diaspora and the Croatian homeland. So they feel proud to be here, in a way he is the motif of the entire trip, considering that we were in Otavice, to see the Meštrović family mausoleum, and that we viewed his works in Zagreb. It brings the program together," Orešković said.

Split Mayor Andro Krstulović Opara also met with the students in the Meštrović Gallery, welcoming his guests to the City of Split.

"These are our dear guests, especially when it comes to young expatriates. We, and when I say we I am referring to my days as the curator here … we put a lot of attention into attracting our people, our emigrants and their children to come and visit. Because as you know, they are our best ambassadors, and the Meštrović Gallery and Ivan Meštrović himself are both very well known to our emigrant communities in the countries where they live. When you say Meštrović in America, they say he's an American sculptor. However, through our work, but also through the forbearers of these young people, we have been able to raise awareness about his Croatian roots, to show that he was an international sculptor of Croatian descent who spent his entire life between his native Dalmatia, Zagreb, various European cities and eventually ended up in America. This is the right place to meet with our young people from abroad who I am sure will take these fantastic impressions home with them and tell their compatriots, their brothers and sisters and friends. That they'll tell them that it is nice here and that they should return," the mayor said.

During their stay in Split, two of the students from the Homeland Summer School, Kristen Kelava and Mato Novosel, shared their impressions of their country of origin, Canada.

"I am very pleased with this project, everything was great, we started the tour in Ilok and we'll finish in Dubrovnik. There is a lot that I haven't seen before so I am happy to have been given this opportunity. I think I was most impressed by Vukovar and Knin, it was very emotional in those cities. It's difficult to see a lot of those things, but it's also good that we all saw it and now we know where our people are and what they did for our country," Kristen said.

 Mate was also impressed with the experience: "I also liked everything we saw and I'm very happy to have experienced it all."

Both vowed to share their experiences upon returning to Canada, with Kristen boasting that Croatia is the best homeland to have, while Mato said he would encourage friends in Toronto to enroll in the summer school program.

Their stay in Split was followed by a visit to Dubrovnik and then Cavtat, the final stop on this year's summer school program. In Dubrovnik, they toured the city's iconic walls, visited Srđ Mountain, while in Cavtat they saw the city center, stopped at the Račić family mausoleum and the birthplace of renowned artist Vlaho Bukovac.

While in Cavtat the Deputy County Prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County, Žaklina Marević, welcomed the students and emphasized that Croatian communities in the diaspora have always had a strong sense of their homeland and taken great care to preserve the Croatian language and identity. She urged the participants to continue this tradition.

26 year-old Ana Slabić from Houston Texas, was also full of positive experiences during the school's travels throughout Croatia. "It's really nice here, I was born in Korčula, so Croatia is my home, although I don't live here now. But I want to live here one day, when I can. Every time I come here, I can feel my homeland in my soul. So, I really find it nice being here," Slabić said.

Žaklina Marević concluded by telling the students that the door to their homeland is always open.